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The Book of Mormon

Once again, the toughest ticket in town lives up to its reviews and then some, so if you're lucky enough to get the chance, jump on it.

To call Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of South Park) and their talented Broadway-seasoned co-creative, Robert Lopez (Avenue Q music and lyrics, original concept, animation design) irreverent is an understatement, but underneath all the sophomoric, explicit, and scatological humor is a relevant message.

Wrapped within a traditional Broadway musical structure is a farce in which Mel Brooks on Viagra (or, estrogen, for that matter) would fit right in. Like the tome on which it is based, The Book of Mormon, the story takes liberties with reality, but therein lays the synergy for one hilarious and exotic number after another.

As we've noted before, this could be any religion receiving the potshots, but almost all of the others have already been shot to holes with satire. So, it's the Mormons' turn, and what a star turn it is! The show won nine Tony Awards© in 2011 after seven years in development.

Nic Roleau as Elder Price
Nic Roleau as Elder Price
Photo: Joan Marcus
George Bernard Shaw once said, "There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it." One of those versions is Mormonism, more formally known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you're not familiar with the Mormon narrative, the musical tells you all you need to know—how Joseph Smith "discovered" the book, the journey to Utah and the founding of Salt Lake City, and the worldwide mission of the church—through the hyperbolic imaginations of the creative team. (In an interesting wrinkle this year, the LDS church took out THREE full-color, full-page ads in the program guide, along with a Quick Response Code for your smartphone QR code reader app, a URL, and a unique text identifier, so you can compare the musical to the "official" version.)

The production numbers are completely over the top, the crowning glory of an extravagant historical progression that began with Busby Berkeley, was carried to zany heights by Mel Brooks in The Producers, and goes ballistic in The Book of Mormon, where it is topped off with "Joseph Smith American Moses," a pseudo-Ugandan, part-cosmology, part-fertility rite, interpretation of "The Book of Mormon."

The Book of Mormon, Second National Tour Company
Missionaries, Second National Tour Company
Photo: Joan Marcus
A couple of 19-year old Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Nic Rouleau) and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), have just finished their training and are about to be assigned a territory to convert and baptize the locals. Price sees himself as G-d's gift to the Mormons, and hopes to be assigned to Orlando, Florida—his version of paradise on Earth. Cunningham is a pathological liar who has a hard time making friends. The two are assigned as a team and sent to Uganda. Price does not take this well.

Rouleau and Holmes mix like oil and water, the perfect chemistry for this far-flung farce. You'll rejoice when the egocentric Elder Price gets smacked down from his pedestal while the sociopath Elder Cunningham "man ups" to the job at hand.

Syesha Mercado as Nabulungi
Syesha Mercado as Nabulungi
Photo: Joan Marcus
There is a love interest as well, the lovely Nabulungi (Syesha Mercado), who gets turned on by Cunningham's clever conflation of Mormonism, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and a send up of the local folk mythology, leading to a whole new version of the Mormon story as only the South Park and Avenue Q boys could imagine it. The Mission President (Christopher Shyer) and his seconds are apoplectic.

The chorus has so much fun, we want to join them in their madcap flamboyance.

Just when you think the absurdities have reached the limit, Parker, Lopez, and Stone surprise us with a message that is surprisingly spiritual. Touché! As Shaw once commented, "Christianity would be a good thing if anyone practiced it."

Denver Center Attractions presentation of The Book of Mormon runs through November 24th. There are lottery tickets available for every show. For more information: 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org/buy-tickets.

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